Jeremy W. Sherman

stay a while, and listen

Cards: Closing Out a Wikipedia Crawl

I don’t recall how it started, but I’m at the tail end of a several-day Wikipedia crawl through playing cards and card games. Read on for fun trivia, neat games you might not have heard of, and, if your playing card experience is primarily American, probably the destruction of a lot of your assumptions around what a “standard deck of cards” is.

Microservices vs Distributed Objects

Distributed objects died out eventually; you can’t really hide the network layer without changing your system design to match. Here’s a Cocoa take. And here’s a Martin Fowler take found via the article below, with a sidebar suggesting a remote façade (to provide a coarse API as a remote endpoint) and data transfer objects (to provide coarse data transfer also as a way around slow remote communication times).

So, if DO sucks, why are microservices any different?

Enter Phil Calçado’s Microservices and the First Law of Distributed Objects:

Objects are not a good unit of distribution. They are too small and chatty to be good network citizens. Services, on the other hand, are meant to be more coarse-grained.

Group terms by affinity; grab out your connected components; now you have bounded contexts. Make those your services.

Early on, not worth the trouble - monoliths make sense. At huge scale, performance considerations (not going down) dwarf maintenance. In the middle, though, this rule of thumb ain’t bad.

Found via Devops Weekly.

The Gist of Regex

Regular expressions scare some people. They’re really quite warm and cuddly, or at least, conceptually very neat and tidy. If you don’t feel that way, this post is for you! Here’s how I think about regexen, in a nutshell.

I use this conception on a regular basis; when it comes to writing regex, I think about what I want to do in this model, then translate it into whatever regex notation the system I’m using at the time gives me. (I do the same thing with distributed version control and relation databases, but let’s stick to regexen for now.)

Regex Is Tiny Machines!

Regular expressions are a compact description of a symbol-matching machine. Like, “If you see an a, then maybe a b, and then one or more c, it’s a match!” for ab?c+.

But the machines can nest, so you can instead say stuff like, “If you see one thing matched by this machine, then maybe one thing matched by that one, followed by one or more things matched by that other, it’s a match!” So the a, b, and c from the last bit could actually be bigger regular expressions themselves.

But you have no variables in regex! So, instead, you plop the whole machine descriptions in there in parentheses, like (…)(…)?(…)+ And repeat the description if you need the same machine twice.

Pitch in self-referentiality - “if you see exactly the same thing as you ended up matched back there” - by using backrefs to parenthesized machines, you’re in our modern world of extended “regular” expressions. At that point, what we’re talking about is no longer actually expressions describing what’s technically known as a regular language, but they’re exceedingly useful extensions of the notation, so no-one cares. ;)

Compact Notation, Effective Expressive Power

What makes regular expressions so useful is:

  • Reach: A lot of stuff we want to match against can actually be described by them, especially when you pitch in a lot of the extended power-ups
  • Compactness: They’re a marvelously compact notation for what would otherwise be a lot of very boring code! Instead of writing that code, we dash of a regex, and we leave the translation into code to the regular expression engine.

For the More Curious

If that’s whet your whistle, Friedl’s Mastering Regular Expressions is excellent. And, as a bonus, you can probably just read the first few chapters and emerge enlightened. :)

P.S. You can also look at regular expressions as definitions of regular languages - as generators rather than consumers of text. Running them backwards like this can be a good way to think about whether a regex you’re writing captures exactly what you’re aiming at, or whether it might include a bit more than you intended!

P.P.S. And if you think about them in terms of machines, it’s really easy to start thinking about how to write fast regular expressions.

P.P.P.S. Hat-tip to @bazbt3 over at App.Net. What is dead can never die!

Iterative Development

“At last, my current practice of writing no automated tests has the blessing of science! See, TDD doesn’t do anything!” That’s how Fucci et al.’s 2016 conference paper An External Replication on the Effects of Test-driven Development Using a Multi-site Blind Analysis Approach was introduced to me.

And, indeed, it concludes like so:

Despite adopting such countermeasures, aimed at reducing researchers' bias [when replicating a prior, baseline study], we confirmed the baseline results: TDD does not affect testing effort, software external quality, and developers’ productivity.


  • All coding is debugging
    • Work in small steps
    • Stay grounded in observed outputs
    • Keep good notes (tests or REPL session logs)
  • TDD won’t slow you down at steady state
    • Changing how you code to be more intentional and iterative might to start.
    • What will definitely slow you down: Learning your tooling and the impact of that iterative approach on the code you produce (expose those probe points for external testing! add indicator LEDs via assertions!)

Now that we’ve got the conclusion out of the way, keep reading to see how I got there. :)

How to Work Around an Empty Zenfolio Zip File

My family recently had some holiday photos taken. The photographer was using Zenfolio to host their photos. I loved the photos and wanted to archive the originals on my laptop (and NAS, and Amazon Photos, and Time Machine, and Carbon Copy Cloner clone, and…). But every time I tried to download an original – of one photo, of all the photos, makes no difference – the server always sent me an empty zipfile!

I emailed the photographer to let them know, but I wasn’t going to wait.

Rather than work around this manually by visiting each page and right-clicking to Save As each photo – and I’m not sure that would show me the full-size image , anyway! – I figured Zenfolio would have an API.

Sure enough, there’s a well-enough documented Zenfolio API. I was in business!

I was able to lash together some shell commands to grab my full photoset. To save you some fumbling, here’s how I did it.